Posted in Cozy, Guest Post, mystery on September 29, 2017

The Bell Tolls (A Hollis Morgan Mystery) 
Traditional Mystery
5th in Series
Camel Press (June 1, 2017)
Paperback: 256 pages


Hollis Morgan has survived imprisonment, received a pardon and persevered to finally become a probate attorney. Tough as she is, her newest case will further test her mettle. She discovers her client, Matthias Bell, is a deceased blackmailer whose last wish was to return the damaging documents letting his victims off the hook. It falls to Hollis to give them the good news. But it becomes apparent that Bell was murdered, and the victims of “Bell’s tolls” are now suspects.

Hollis’ white-collar criminal past has left her with keen survival instincts. A gifted liar, she knows a liar when she sees one. A lot of people in this case are lying and one is a killer.

On top of that, she’s also representing a dying stripper, a wealthy widow whose estranged daughter spurns her attempts at reconciliation, but whose husband sees the potential inheritance as mending all wounds.

Clients aside, Hollis is defensive and wary. Her mother, who hasn’t spoken to her for years, needs a kidney, and Hollis is a match, but neither are ready to put away the past. With Hollis’ fiancé and emotional support off on an undercover mission for Homeland Security, she must count on her own survival instincts. She is swept along on an emotional roller coaster as her absent love and her family’s coldness take their own toll.

Work is her salvation. The specter of a killer keeps her focused. Hollis has always had to rely on her wits, but now she finds that others who don’t have her well-being in mind are relying on them as well.

Book 5 in the Hollis Morgan Mystery series, which began with The Fallen Angels Book Club.

Guest Post


By Rae James

I didn’t start out wanting to write a series, but it was clear to me by the time I reached sixty-thousand words, that Hollis Morgan, my protagonist in the Hollis Morgan Mystery Series, had much left to say.

My first book was in first person, a voice initially I was not that comfortable with, except that I could hear Hollis whispering in my ear. Her reactions, thoughts, and words all spilled out onto the page – her story was not only about fighting for a second chance, she wanted redemption. Once book one was launched, later books were written in third person-close and I saw the world through Hollis’s eyes.

Book one, The Fallen Angels Book Club, poured out of my keyboard. The members of the book club were all white-collar ex-felons, and were as different and complex as any miscreant ensemble. The fact that they shared a love of books took precedence over their unfortunate deviation from the law. Now considered social outcasts, they fought hard to regain society’s acceptance and even harder to re-gain their own self-respect. Unfortunately, their efforts are discounted. They are obvious suspects when a member of the club is murdered mimicking the plot from one of their book club selections.

But Hollis’ story couldn’t end with the resolution of the crime. I wanted to know what would (or could) happen to Hollis Morgan. Would she tire of having to prove herself to society that she deserved to be trusted?  Or, would her innate sense of helping those who, like her, just needed a second chance, move her to confront risk, face danger and her own worst fears?

The outline of a series revealed itself to me.

Books two through four, not only reveal the character development and growth of Hollis, the plot lines are more complex and darker. Hollis’s resolve to remain true to herself while resisting letting down the towering walls she has built up, becomes harder and harder to do. Her encounter with others, who not only need her professional skills, but with whom she finds she must trust to share a part of herself—is her series character arc.  While each book stands on its own, readers will enjoy experiencing Hollis’s evolution from a brash, standoffish ex-con into a thoughtful, confident but still brash young woman.

The trick for any mystery series (for any book, really) is to keep the reader engaged and vested in the plot, anticipating and eager to find out what lies ahead. A book club of ex-felons not only contains a caldron full of sub-plots, it creates the major opportunity to keep readers’ attention. Today’s world is full of distractions and short attention spans, but when your sub-plots are as intriguing as your main plot, readers will not put down the book until the last satisfying page.

Subplots are essential to a series. These stories within a story not only provide tension and multi-layered suspense, subplots weave dimension to characters allowing them to express themselves differently under potentially different situations. Hollis comes from a dysfunctional family that contributes to her isolation, but we see in how she reacts to confrontations with her family that she keeps hidden her vulnerability when responding to her clients. For them, she’s as “tough as nails”.

It’s important to write characters that readers care about. When you’re writing a series, the storyline has to be gripping for the long haul. In my case it had to be six books long. This is key not only for mysteries, but for any work of fiction, as well. Shallow or stereotyped characters are not sympathetic, they are boring. An antagonist has dimension when they have at least some redeeming qualities, and becomes a complex character that enriches the storyline. In a like manner, a flawed protagonist will keep readers turning the pages of your mystery, because it’s unexpected and if the flaw is an emotional wound—even better.


About the Author

R. Franklin James grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. From there she cultivated a different type of writing—legislation and public policy. After serving as Deputy Mayor for the City of Los Angeles, under millionaire Richard Riordan, she went back to her first love—writing, and in 2013 her debut novel, THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUB was published by Camel Press. Her second book in The Hollis Morgan Mystery Series, STICKS & STONES, was followed by THE RETURN OF THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUB, and THE TRADE LIST. THE BELL TOLLS, book five was released in June 2017.

R. Franklin James lives in Northern California with her husband.

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